Some Descendants of John Farris, Sr. of Hanover County, Virginia
Compiled 2014/2015 by George J. Farris, Oak Ridge TN

I’ve put together this summary for the use of those who may have interest in research of the various Farris families who spread from Franklin County, Illinois, during the 1830s and 1840s. It involves descendants of John and William Farris who ultimately ended up in Franklin County Illinois and whose children and grandchildren spread fairly widely from there. This is an attempt to put many pieces of information together in a coherent framework that may form a basis for future research of these family lines. While this is based on research that I and others have done over the past 30 years or so, many of the places where these people lived have very few records remaining from the relevant time, so some of what is here is unprovable and there are gaps in our knowledge. I’ve tried to keep the document succinct, and have not included specific source document references or very many details. The intent was to make this a useful summary document as a guide for future research rather than a detailed genealogical record.

John Farris, Sr.

John Farris, Sr. was listed in the 1782 tax list for Hanover County, Virginia, and was a witness to a deed for the Meeks family that resided on Allen’s Creek in SW Hanover County. The location on what is now known as Mill Creek, a short tributary of the South Anna River near the Louisa County line, is consistent with his son John’s enlisting in the Revolutionary War in 1779 at Louisa Courthouse, since the location is closer to Louisa Courthouse than to the court house at Hanover. Very few records exist for the colonial period in that part of Virginia. While he was probably the father of our John and William Farris ancestors of Franklin County, Illinois, the only verification of that is a baptism record in the St. Peter’s Parish vestry books for a John Farris, son of John and Mary Farris, born August 10, 1757 and baptized May 7, 1758, that is consistent with the age John stated in his RW pension application. If this John and Mary were their parents then they are our most distant identified Farris line ancestors. While I believe that John Farris, Sr. was our most distant identified Farris line ancestor it is likely that there were other prior generations of this line in the American colonies, but no records have been found to identify them.

John and William Farris

Y chromosome DNA analyses of some of the direct male line descendants indicates that John and William were closely related and probably brothers. They migrated west through Virginia and Kentucky and both ended up in Franklin County, Illinois. John filed a Revolutionary War pension claim in 1834 that documents that he was born about 1757 and that he enlisted in 1779 while a resident of Hanover County, Virginia. He listed his service as being in Captain George Brown’s company of the 14th Regiment Continental Line of Virginia and in Captain (actually Colonel) Charles Dabney’s company at Yorktown. By the time of his initial service beginning in 1779, the Continental Line14th Regiment had actually been reorganized as the 3rd Virginia Regiment. His last period of service under Dabney included helping to march the British soldiers to Winchester Barracks after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. He was discharged late in 1781 or early 1782. Because his service was in a Virginia regiment rather than in the Continental Line of the United States, no records of his service were found and his application for a federal pension was rejected. (Note that the Dabney estate “Aldingham” where Col. Charles Dabney lived and died, is on the north side of the South Anna River within about 2 miles of where we believe the Farris family lived at the time of the Revolutionary War.)

The next records that have been found that can be identified with this specific John and William Farris were in 1785 when they were residents of Albemarle County, VA. In that year, William was on the Albemarle tax list and John was married to Anne Bunnell on July 22, 1785. Anne Bunnell was one of the daughters of William Bunnell/Bonnell. This family had also migrated to Albemarle from Spotsylvania County, VA, where they had lived on Plentiful Creek, a tributary of the North Anna River, about 30 miles north of where John & William Farris had originated. For the next several decades there were considerable interactions between these Farris and Bunnell families who apparently migrated together through Virginia and Kentucky. It is probable that the wife of William Farris was “Polly” Bunnell, a sister of Anne Bunnell Farris. While no marriage record or other proof of this has been found to-date, this is consistent with DNA analysis of descendants and other evidence. From a local census in 1785 in Albemarle County, Virginia, it appears that William was already married by that time. Since there is no record of the William Bunnell family for the year 1784 I suspect that they moved from Spotsylvania County after the time of the 1783 tax list into adjacent Hanover County and that William Farris and Mary Bunnell were married there in 1784 before both the Farris and Bunnell families migrated to Albemarle County by 1785.

William Bunnell was on the Rockbridge County, VA tax list from 1787 through 1794 and in 1792 another daughter of William Bunnell was married in Rockbridge County. John Farris was also on the Rockbridge County tax lists from 1787 through 1795. From 1795 through 1797 William Bunnell was in Botetourt Co. VA where he was joined by John Farris in 1796. Both families then moved to Mercer County KY during 1798. Records of the Bunnell and Farris families appear together in Mercer County, KY beginning in 1799. There are records of a William Farris in Woodford and Franklin Counties KY during the 1790s, but these have not yet been verified to be the same William Farris. He was not on the Rockbridge County tax lists with John Farris and William Bunnell and can't be identified definitively in VA tax lists after 1787 in Albemarle County.

From 1799 through 1809 there are records involving William Bunnell, Sr. and several of his children plus records for John and William Farris in Mercer County, KY. William Bunnell, Sr. disappears from records after 1805 but no death or probate records have been found for him.

By late in that decade, some of the Bunnell families had moved farther west to Barren, Adair, and Green Counties, KY. Before 1810 the John and William Farris families also moved into Green County, KY. They appear there in the 1810 U.S. census and in Green County tax lists for several years, living in an area about 5 miles southwest of Greensburg. During their time there, the oldest son of William Farris (who was also named John Farris) served in the War of 1812 with the units of a military expedition into Canada. This is documented in a bounty land claim that he filed many years later at the time he lived in Fulton County, IL. James Farris, the oldest identified son of John Farris, also served in the War of 1812 with the Kentucky Militia units that were involved in the Battle of New Orleans and there is a bounty land record for him in 1857 when he was living in St. Clair Co. IL.

In about 1814, the William Farris family moved into the Illinois Territory in an area of Gallatin County that became Franklin County, IL in 1818 when the State of Illinois was established. The John Farris family remained in Kentucky for a few more years before joining them. During a part of that time the John Farris family lived in adjacent Hardin County, along with the families of two of the William Bunnell children. Anna Farris, one of the children of John, married Thomas Roberts in Hardin County in 1816. Before 1818 the John Farris family had also moved to Franklin County, IL. William had entered 160 acres of land in 1816 east of current West Frankfort in what became Franklin Co. which is where his family presumably lived, and he also entered 80 acres in 1819 in what is now Williamson Co. located on the west side of the current city of Marion which is where John’s family apparently lived.

Because of a courthouse fire in 1843, there are very few records for the period during which the Farris families lived in Franklin County, IL. We know from Illinois state records that William Farris was very active in Franklin County government as a Justice of the Peace, Judge of Probate, and a County Commissioner. Other than census records, the only record involving John Farris there is the Revolutionary War pension claim that he filed in 1834.

William died in late 1832 or early 1833 in Franklin Co. John apparently died sometime between filing the pension claim in 1834 and the 1840 census when the rest of his family was living in MO. He may have died in either Franklin Co. IL or in Washington Co. MO. John and William had numerous children, all of whom had left Franklin County before the courthouse fire in 1843, so there are few records in the county involving them. There are records for several of the children elsewhere in Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas and from these and the few Franklin County records we have a reasonable understanding of the families and their later migrations.

Following is a very brief summary for each of the children of John and William Farris.

Children of John Farris

The probable children of John Farris include the following:

J1 - Mary Farris - Mary was born in VA about 1789, and was living with the John W. Farris family in Washington Co. MO in 1850. She was also probably the female age 50-60 listed living with Anderson P. Farris in Washington Co. Missouri in the 1840 census. While I had originally thought that Mary might have been a younger second wife of John rather than a daughter, DNA matches of descendants of the yougest son of John born in 1828 with other Bunnell descendants indicate that all of these Farrises were children or grandchildren of Anne Bunnell Farris. So Mary appears to have been their oldest unmarried daughter. Nothing more is known about her.

J2 - James Farris - James was born about 1795 in VA and, while a resident of Green Co. KY, served in the 14th Kentucky Militia at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. He married Margaret Chamness in about 1832 in Franklin County, IL. In 1819/1820 the families of James and his cousin John Farris were living in Montgomery Co. MO (in the part that later became Callaway Co.) According to a biography of one of the sons of William, they returned to Franklin Co. IL after a little more than one year in MO. James served in the Black Hawk War in 1832 in Franklin Co. IL, was listed there in the 1840 census, and was living in St. Clair Co. IL near Belleville in 1850 and 1855 according to War of 1812 and Black Hawk War bounty land claims filed in those years. He died before 1860 and Margaret was living with three of the children near Belleville in the 1860 census and adjacent to James Farris, Jr., a married son and his family. The children of James and Margaret were James, Jr., Wilford, Marion Francis, and Delila. James, Jr. lived for several years in Bremer County, IA in the 1850s where he was married by Jeremiah Farris, County Judge, one of the sons of William Farris. Elizabeth Farris Tippey, a sister of James, Sr., also lived in Bremer Co. James. Jr. also returned there shortly after the 1860 census and served in the Civil War in the same regiment with Joseph B. Farris, a son of Jeremiah. In his Civil War pension claim James, Jr. stated that he was born in 1835 in the part of Franklin Co. that became Williamson Co. IL in 1839.

J3 - Anna Farris Roberts - Anna was born about 1800 and married Thomas Roberts on Nov. 16, 1816 in Hardin Co. KY. Thomas Roberts appears on the register of “Men enlisted in the U.S. Army prior to the Peace established May 17, 1815” as serving from Hardin Co. KY from March 22, 1814 to June 4, 1815 during the War of 1812. Nothing more is currently known about the family.

J4 - Elizabeth Farris Tippey – Elizabeth was born June 2, 1806 in KY and married Abner Tippey about 1828 in Franklin Co. IL. Abner was part of the Abraham Tippey family that lived just west of current Marion in Williamson Co. IL. Abner and Elizabeth later lived in Fulton Co. IL and Bremer Co. IA. Elizabeth died December 8, 1878 and is buried in the Messinger Cemetery in Bremer Co. IA. This old cemetery was also the burial place of several children and later descendants of Jeremiah Farris, one of the sons of William, and probably a cousin of Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Abner Tippey had 7 children.

J5 - John W. Farris – John W. was born in KY about 1810 and married Elizabeth Crawford in about 1832. Elizabeth was born in TN the daughter of John Crawford who, like William Farris, was a very early settler in Franklin County, IL and was also quite involved in Franklin County government. The oldest daughter of John W. & Elizabeth Farris was born in 1833 in Mississippi and they later lived in Franklin and Fulton Co. IL. In the early 1840s they migrated to Washington Co. MO and apparently died there after 1880. In the mid 1830s there are deed records for John W. and Elizabeth Farris in Fulton Co. IL that involve his cousins Jeremiah and John Farris, sons of William and they were listed in the 1835 Illinois State Census in Fulton County. In 1840 the John W. Farris family was living back in Franklin Co. IL and was in Washington Co. MO before 1843. They were in the U.S. census in Washington Co. MO in 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. However, in the1865 IL state census the John W. Farris family had returned to Benton Township, Franklin Co. IL, which they apparently thought was a safer place during the Civil War than remaining in MO and where Elizabeth had many relatives. They had 11 children. Two of their sons were killed in the Civil War and a third, Cowan M. Farris, was shot through the chest and reported as killed at the battle of Pleasant Hill, LA in 1864. However, he recovered and later lived in MO, TX and AR.

J6 - Anderson P. Farris - Anderson P. was born in KY April 22, 1814.  He was living in Franklin Co. IL in the early 1830s where he served in the Black Hawk War in 1832 and bought 80 acres from the federal government in 1833.  He was in Monroe Co. IL in 1837 when he sold his Franklin Co. IL property and bought land in MO in 1837, and was in Washington Co. MO in the 1840 census.  He probably went to Monroe Co. IL to study medicine under Dr. John Rogers of Waterloo who was the leading physician in the region at that time. His initial land purchase in MO was near the current town of Mitchell in what is now St. Francois County but the 1840 census listing was near Potosi in Washington County. In about 1848 he moved to Ouachita Co. AR where he lived the rest of his life.  He was a physician as well as a farm owner there and accumulated several thousand acres of land in Ouachita and Calhoun Counties, spanning the Ouachita River.  120 acres of his land was obtained in 1860 using a Black Hawk War land warrant granted for his service while a resident of Franklin Co. IL.  He married Sara Frances Ferrell in 1859, Amanda K. Moore in 1867, and Artemsia Elizabeth Laney Smith in 1880. All three are buried in the Farris family cemetery on his farm along with Dr. Anderson P. Farris who died Sep. 14, 1889. He had 4 children with these three wives: Jefferson Marshall, Lucien P., Martha, and Ida. He also had a mixed race son, Joseph Farris, born in 1852 to his house servant whose name is unknown. She was listed on the 1850 slave schedule simply as a female, age 15. Joseph was raised in the family and later helped manage the farm property. Joseph's wife was Louisiana Arnold, an employee of Dr. Farris. From recent DNA analysis it also appears probable that an Eliza Farris, born about 1853, who married John Moore was also a mixed race daughter of Anderson P. Farris and his house servant. John and Eliza also lived next to Dr. Farris and worked for him.

In the 1860 census Seth C. Farris (listed in the census as F.C. Farris), son of Lucien N. Farris, was living with his uncle Anderson P. Farris. Also, Cowan M. Farris, son of John W. Farris, lived the last years of his life near the home of his uncle Dr. A.P. Farris and is supposed to also have been buried in the same Farris Cemetery, but there is no marker for him.  Cowan is listed in Confederate pension records as living in Ouachita Co. AR in 1892 and 1895, having moved there from MO before1889. He had also lived in Texas for about a year.

J7 - Laura Farris Talbott  - Laura was born Feb. 12, 1818 in IL.  Her husband, Benjamin Talbott, served in the Black Hawk War in 1832 in Franklin Co. IL in the same unit with Anderson P. Farris.  Laura and Benjamin were married in 1832 and migrated to Washington County, MO. Benjamin was later accused of a murder, escaped from prison, and joined the Confederate army. He was killed later in the Civil War.  In 1860 Benjamin was away and Laura and the children were living in St. Francois Co. MO next door to the John J. Farris family, John J. being one of the children of the above John W. Farris and presumably Laura's nephew. In the 1870 census one of her sons, Hiram Talbott, was living with the family of Seth C. Farris, son of Lucien N. Farris, in Lamar County, TX. Laura died April 16, 1879, in Washington Co. MO. She and Benjamin had 12 children.

J8 - Lucien Nestor Farris - According to his Civil War pension application Lucien was born Oct. 12, 1820 in Franklin Co. IL. He migrated to Reynolds Co. MO where he married Nancy Hyatt in Feb. 1840. They had six children before Nancy’s death in 1854. He then married Anna Carter in Sep. 1856 and they had nine children. He was a member of the MO legislature representing Reynolds County before the Civil War and again after the law restricting Confederate soldiers from holding office was rescinded.  He was an officer in a Missouri Confederate regiment. For about a year in 1862 he was in hiding from Union forces and lived with Anderson P. Farris in AR. He died on August 6, 1876 in Reynolds Co. MO and is buried in the Buffington Cemetery.

Children or Grandchildren of John Farris

J9 - William C. Farris – William C. Farris was born in IL in 1826. He was probably one of the two younger unmarried males (age10-15) living with Anderson P. Farris in Washington Co. MO in 1840. Before 1850 he was married and William C., his wife Sophia, and two young children were living in adjacent Wayne Co. MO. By the time of the 1860 census the family was living near the Anderson P. Farris family in Ouachita Co. AR, where they had apparently been living for about four years since they had five year old twin daughters born in MO and a four year old daughter born in AR. In 1859 William C. Farris was listed as the postmaster for Tremont, a community in Washington Township that no longer exists. In 1859 Sophia Amanda Farris died and was buried in the family cemetery on the Anderson P. Farris farm. William C. may have died during the Civil War since no later record of him has been found.

J10 - Clinton Farris – Clinton was born in 1828 in IL and was probably the second unmarried younger male (10-15) living with Anderson P. Farris in 1840. By 1850 Clinton was married to Mary Ann Mann and was living in Reynolds Co. MO near the Lucien N. Farris family. He died in Wayne County MO in 1855. In 1870 one of his daughters Juliet Susan Farris Beard and her family were living adjacent to the Cowan Farris family in Reynolds County. Descendants of his four daughters have not been able to ascertain his ancestry. Clinton has not been identified with any other Farris family and apparently was part of the John Farris family. DNA analysis of his descendants show matches with other descendants of John and William Farris as well as with other descendants of William Bunnell.

Note: The births of William C.and Clinton Farris in 1826 and 1828 appear to have been after the normal childbearing age of Anne Bunnell Farris. While DNA analysis indicates that they were closely related to the older children of John and Anne and were apparently Bunnell descendants it has been speculated that they were grandchildren rather than children of John and Anne. They seem to have lived with Anderson P. Farris in Washington County, Missouri prior to their marriages. The only known possible Farris parents would have been James Farris and an earlier wife prior to his marraige to Margaret Chamness about 1832. This remains an unresolved question..

Children of William Farris

Within a few years of the time that William and John Farris and their families moved from Mercer Co. KY to Green Co. KY, Peter Bunnell moved to Green County, William Bunnell and Joseph & Rebecca (Bunnell) Lyons moved to adjoining Hardin Co., Jeremiah Bunnell moved to adjoining Hart County, and John Handy married Susannah Bunnell and lived in adjacent Adair Co. All of these Bunnells were apparently members of the William Bunnell, Sr. family of Virginia and Mercer County, KY. William and Polly Farris had a son born in Green Co. who was named Joseph Bunnell Farris and most of their children appear to have been named after other members of the Bunnell family. (Joseph Bunnell was another of the Bunnell siblings who lived in Jessamine Co. KY and later in Howard Co. MO.) During the late1820s some of the children of William and Polly Farris lived in Fulton Co. IL along with the family of John & Susannah Bunnell Handy. From these Farris/Bunnell interactions it seems probable that the wife of William Farris was also a member of the William Bunnell family. In later deed records in Illinois she is listed as “Polly” (Mary). No marriage record has yet been found for William Farris and Polly Bunnell, but they were probably married somewhere in Virginia before 1790. Their known and probable children included:

W1 - John Farris - John was born August 10, 1790, probably in Franklin Co. KY (then part of Woodford Co. VA). He served in the War of 1812 during the time the family lived in Green Co. KY. He married Elizabeth Estes in 1817 in Gallatin Co. IL. At that time the area in the Illinois Territory where the William Farris family lived was still a part of Gallatin Co. In 1819/1820 they lived for less than two years in Montgomery County, MO along with John’s cousin James Farris. In 1827 or 1828 they, along with the Jeremiah Farris family, moved to Fulton Co. IL, where John & Elizabeth remained for the rest of their lives. They had 6 children. John died March 7, 1852 in Fulton Co. His brother Jeremiah was administrator of his estate.

W2 - David Farris – David was born about 1795, probably in Franklin Co. KY. He married Louisa Little about 1822 in Franklin Co. IL. Their family remained in Franklin County until after 1830 and then joined several of his siblings in Fulton County. He served in the Black Hawk War in 1832 along with his brothers Jeremiah and Joseph B. He died about 1848 in Fulton Co. IL. David and Louisa had nine children. Louisa married Moses Meeker after David died.

W3 - Jonathan Farris - Jonathan was born in 1797 in KY. He married Catherine Eveland in Fulton Co. IL in 1829, but she apparently died during or shortly after childbirth in early 1830. They had moved to Morgan Co. IL along with the family of John and Susannah (Bunnell) Handy and Jonathan married their daughter, Sarah Handy, in Morgan Co. in 1830. They were probably first cousins. In about 1842 they moved, along with the Handys, to Gentry Co. MO where Jonathan died in February, 1849. Jonathan had served in the Black Hawk War and his widow filed a bounty land claim after he died and was granted warrants for 120 acres. She and some of the children later moved to Pettis Co. MO. Jonathan had 6 children, 5 with Sarah and one with Catherine.

W4 - Jeremiah Farris – Jeremiah was born in KY on February 13, 1805. In about 1823 he married Rosanna Estes in Franklin Co. IL. In 1827 or 1828 his family and that of his brother John Farris moved to Fulton Co. IL. In 1832 he served in the Black Hawk War and was involved in the engagement on Sycamore Creek in what is now Ogle Co. IL in which his brother, Joseph B. Farris, was killed. Jeremiah and Rosanna named a son (who was my great-grandfather) who was born in September, 1832, after Jeremiah’s brother Joseph Bunnell Farris. Rosanna Estes Farris died in December, 1846, and Jeremiah married Margaret Ann Dean in 1847 in Fulton County. In 1851 Jeremiah led a group of settlers from Fulton Co. to Bremer Co. IA which had just been formed. He helped organize the county government and served as the first County Judge. In 1855 he founded the town now known as Denver, IA. In 1858 he moved to Linn Co. KS where he lived for the rest of his life. He died in November, 1874, and is buried in Richland Cemetery in Linn Co. Jeremiah was the father of 13 children, 6 with Rosanna and 7 with Margaret.

W5 - Anne Farris Estes - Anne was born in KY in about 1807. In about 1826 she married Lewis Estes in Franklin County, IL. Lewis was a brother of the wives of John and Jeremiah Farris and he and Anne and their family also moved to Fulton Co. IL. Both Anne and Lewis died in Fulton Co. in December, 1878, and are buried in the Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. They had 5 children.

W6 - Joseph Bunnell Farris - Joseph Bunnell Farris was born about 1812 in Green Co. KY. He lived in Franklin and Fulton Co. IL and married Jane Ashby in January 1832 in Fulton Co. A few months after he was married he joined his brothers David and Jeremiah in serving in the Black Hawk War. He was one of the 13 Mounted Rangers killed in the Battle on Sycamore Creek on May 14, 1832 in what is now Ogle Co. IL. Ten of them were buried the next day in a mass grave by a company from Sangamon Co. IL which included Abraham Lincoln. There is a memorial monument at the site commemorating the event – plus individual memorial stones for each of the ten.

W7 - Joshua Farris – Joshua was born about 1815, probably in what is now Franklin Co. IL. In 1840 he married Hetta Kelly in Fulton Co. IL. He died quite young in March, 1850 in Fulton Co. His brother, Jeremiah, was administrator of his estate. Joshua and Hetta had 4 children. Jeremiah became the guardian of their daughter Margaret Ann who moved to Bremer County IA with Jeremiah’s family and was later married there to Abraham Winklepleck. They later lived in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri and were residing in Lafayette County, Missouri in the 1880 census. Records have been found for only one of the three sons of Joshua, that being William, who ultimately ended up in Miller Co. MO. Some of his descendants later moved to Baxter Co. AR. After Joshua died Hetta married John Richmond, a physician, and they later lived in IL and in the Dakota Territory.

W8 - Samuel Farris – Samuel was born about 1811 in KY and was apparently living with the family of Joshua Farris at the time Joshua died in 1850, and with Joshua’s widow and children in the 1850 census in Fulton Co. IL. Nothing more is known about him.

DNA Results

To date, Y chromosome DNA tests have been done of direct male line descendants of one of the sons of John Farris (John W. Farris) and two sons of William Farris (Jeremiah Farris and David Farris). Male line descendants of Anderson P. Farris, Lucien N. Farris, Jonathan Farris and Joshua Farris have been identified but have not yet done Y-DNA tests. The results to-date confirm that the Farris lines that have been tested are closely related and have a common male line ancestor within a relatively few generations. Also, significantly, the DNA of these lines is significantly different from that of all other Farris lines that have been tested, so we are not closely related to the many other Farris/Ferris lines that are common throughout the USA.

Recent advances in analysis of autosomal DNA have made it possible to identify relationships on all ancestral lines back about 5 generations with a reasonable high probability. As more descendants of the various Farris lines are being tested some of the relationships identified above are being verified and I expect that more will be confirmed through that mechanism in the future. Relationships have been identified in this way between descendants of Jeremiah, John, David, John W., Lucien, Anderson P. and Clinton Farris as well as with descendants of Anne Farris Estes, Laura Farris Talbott and Elizabeth Farris Tippey. We have also found matches of descendants of many of these with other descendants of William Bunnell through separate lines of descent.

Deeper Ancestry of our Farris line

Recent Y-chromosome analysis of direct male line descendants of William and John Farris has indicated that all of us have a common male line ancestor within a few generations, i.e., the John Farris, Sr. who we assume was the father of John and William. While that is the primary outcome of the analysis, the Y-DNA results also give us some information regarding our deeper ancestry along that particular ancestral line. While it’s not possible to identify specific individuals further back, there are some interesting points that we can discern from the analysis.

The I1-M253 Haplogroup

A haplogroup is a group of human men who share a set of Y-chromosome markers that have remained essentially constant over a long period of time and many generations. All descend from one single male in the distant past. Occasionally an individual man inherits a set of markers that have mutated significantly from the base haplogroup and he then becomes the progenitor of a new haplogroup that is a branch from the original. The I1 haplogroup originated in this way in southern Europe some 5000 years ago. What is now known as the I1-M253 haplogroup similarly originated as a branch of I1 with a single man who lived about 3500 years ago, probably in the general area of what is now Denmark. That man was a common ancestor of all men living today with Y chromosome markers that place them in I1-M253. That includes those of us who are male line descendants of either John or William Farris.

The men within this haplogroup who populated southern Scandinavia were members of one of the two primary haplogroups that became known as Vikings and spread their DNA through their explorations, voyages, and settlements, especially along the coast of England and Scotland about a thousand years ago. By the 1300s descendants of these men made up a significant part of the population in what was known as the Borders area of Scotland, adjoining the northern border of England.

The Borders Area

The “Lowland Clans” of Scotland included those who populated the Borders shires of Peebles, Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk. For nearly 300 years up until the early 1600s the area on both sides of the England/Scotland border was a very lawless and dangerous place, with raids being conducted across the border in both directions as well as deadly feuds among the clans. The term “Border Reivers” was applied to some of these notorious bands of raiders. While surnames had come into use by that time, they were changed as circumstances dictated, such as joining a clan and taking the clan name as the family name. The violence also resulted in orphans who were raised by other families and may or may not have taken the new family name. In 1608 when James I became King of England he was already King of Scotland and thus formed the United Kingdom - and he set about pacifying the Borders region. One part of this pacification consisted of breaking up and essentially removing some of the most notorious of the clans, including the Elliotts and Irvines, among others. This included forcibly relocating some of them to northern Ireland. Some who remained in the area became members of other border clans/families and adopted the clan surnames. The reason this is of interest to us is that it appears likely that our direct male line heritage is from that area and those times.

DNA Matches with People of Different Surnames

The most common Y-DNA test for genealogical purposes looks at the values of 67 "markers" - specific locations on the Y chromosome where numbers of repetitions of a series of chemical characteristic are counted. These numbers or "alleles values" define our haplotype. The values at these marker locations mutate very slowly over generations. Matching the values of these markers with those of many other people in a large database is the basis for determining what haplogroup we belong to. Some people in a large database of tested people have been able to identify distant ancestors through a "paper trail" of records and know where they lived centuries ago. A close identification of our own markers with theirs indicates a high probability of a common ancestry on our direct male line.

These relationship matches are usually represented by a series of probabilities for a common male line ancestor within a certain number of generations. For instance, in the case of my own DNA, it indicates that there is a greater than 97% probability of a common male ancestor within 12 generations and a greater than 99% probability within 16 generations with some Fairbairns, Elliotts, and Irwins whose ancestry traces to the Borders area of Scotland - families who are documented in that area back into the days of the "Border Reivers." While Farris and Fairbairn were not clan names associated with the Border Reivers, Elliott and Irwin/Irvine were. Some of the Fairbairns with whom we are closely related on our direct male line can trace their ancestry in Roxburgh back into the 1600s.

As explained above, there are good reasons why people with different surnames today can trace their ancestry back to one single common male ancestor in the Borders area of Scotland in the 1500s or 1600s. There is no way to know what surname that common ancestor used. It may have been Farris or Fairbairn or Elliott or Irwin or something else. We do know that, at some point in the past 400 years, the direct male line ancestors of John and William Farris began using the Farris surname. But the name Farris, like many surnames, came into use in many different places for different reasons. The Farris surname project at FTDNA (which includes many different variations of spelling of the name) has identified about a dozen distinct Farris lines with significantly different DNA and different origins. In tracking John and William Farris in records across Virginia and Kentucky and into Illinois I frequently found other Farris families in the same areas, but never found any indication that any of them were related. That seems to be consistent with our Y-DNA results that show us more closely related to some people with different surnames than to the other common Farris/Ferris lines.


George J. Farris
Oak Ridge, TN
last revised April 2023

© Copyright 2016, George J. Farris, All rights reserved.